My Most Memorable Interview With a Residential School Survivor


Perhaps one of the best side of my job is that it permits me to fulfill and communicate with individuals whose lives are far faraway from mine. That typically contains distinguished politicians, enterprise executives, athletes and artists. But typically, my most memorable interviews have been with people who find themselves neither well-known, rich nor highly effective.

Garry Gottfriedson is a prime instance. Just a few weeks in the past I traveled out to the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia, the place he’s a member, to speak about his private historical past and his typically horrific experiences as a scholar on the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

An educator who at present teaches writing at Thompson Rivers University, a poet who studied under Allen Ginsberg and a rancher from a rodeo household, Mr. Gottfriedson is a information keeper in his neighborhood. He was as considerate as he was humorous, in a dry sort of approach, throughout a morning we spent up within the mountains together with members of his prolonged household.

As most of you recognize, the Tk’emlups First Nation jolted Canadians in late May with a preliminary discovering that ground-penetrating radar had discovered the stays of 215 individuals, most of them very possible youngsters, in unmarked graves on the grounds of the college. It supplied few particulars on the time, partially as a result of the search had not completed.

This week, the nation offered extra particulars from its preliminary investigation, which was performed by Sarah Beaulieu, an anthropology lecturer on the University of the Fraser Valley. For the previous decade or so, she has labored on a number of tasks utilizing ground-penetrating radar to find human stays, together with a challenge for the Canadian First World War Internment Recognition Fund, which lent its radar tools for the Kamloops college examination and for a search on the website of one other residential college.

Two issues emerged. First, Dr. Beaulieu decreased her estimate of the variety of stays to 200 and stated that many of the graves had been very shallow. But, extra necessary, she scanned solely about two of 160 acres that make up the college website, particularly a former orchard the place survivors stated that they had been made to dig graves. A baby’s rib and tooth had additionally turned up within the space in recent times.

“This investigation has barely scratched the surface,” she stated.

The presentation additionally mentioned what may comply with the searches at Tk’emlups and the websites of different residential faculties throughout the nation.

In specific, RoseAnne Archibald, nationwide chief of the Assembly of First Nations, is among the many many individuals now calling for prison investigations into the lay employees members and the monks, monks and nuns who ran the colleges. Because the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which is following the needs of Indigenous teams, can be the drive that was used to ensure that Indigenous youngsters attended the colleges as required by regulation on the time, Chief Archibald referred to as for the institution of an impartial investigative company.

Chief Archibald stated that she considered the burial websites as crime scenes.

“We need some kind of independent investigator on this process, and we also need international examination into these crimes,” she stated.

Three members of the Tk’emlups First Nation who attended the college took the emotionally fraught step of telling about their experiences on the Tk’emlups presentation. Their tales had been shifting, stunning and highly effective, and I encourage everyone to watch them here (their remarks begin at about 2 hours four minutes).

For me, the customarily Orwellian world of the colleges was underscored by an anecdote supplied by Leona Thomas, one of many former college students.

“I was put into a dancing group that learned every ethnic dance except my own,” she stated. “I knew how to Irish jig. I knew how to do the eight-hand reel. I knew how to do the Mexican hat dances.”

Like Gottfriedson, Ms. Thomas stated that the college had had a lingering impact on her life, together with her persevering with incapacity to talk her Indigenous language.

“I tried — I got so many beatings for speaking my language that I’m sure that there’s a subconscious block that just did not allow me to do it,” she stated.


A local of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the previous 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


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